That bright new dress or crisp white button-down shirt looks so perfect right off the rack, it’s safe to put it on as soon as you leave the store, right? Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Studies have shown that new clothes are actually dirtier than they look, and you absolutely need to run them through the washing machine at least once before wearing them.
New York University microbiology professor Philip Tierno conducted studies in which he tested clothing from popular chain stores – including blouses, pants, dresses, swimsuit and underwear – that was tried on and put back. In his research, he found clothing that contained norovirus, bacteria including strep and staph, and even fecal germs. Tierno told the Huffington Post there are three main ways we spread germs: from our skin, respiratory tree (think mouth and nose) and anus. If you touch clothing that has germs on it (after all, you have no idea how many people have tried it on before you!) and then touch your mouth, eyes or nose, you’re putting yourself at risk.
Another study conducted by Dr. Donald Belsito of Columbia University Medical Center and cited in the Wall Street Journal found scabies, lice or fungus on garments. What’s more, clothes are sometimes processed with detergents, chemical additives, dyes, resins, or tanning agents – like formaldehyde for wrinkle-free material – that can cause skin irritation or severe reactions such as dermatitis or eczema. And clothes that are bought online and shipped are typically kept with some preservatives so that mold won’t grow on them during the shipping process.
While this news may be daunting, the good news is washing your clothes before wearing them can help remove these potentially harmful germs and chemicals, and washing and drying will also remove unwanted bugs like lice from clothing.
Here are some tips for keeping your new clothes looking new:
- Always read the label carefully so you don’t accidentally shrink or damage the garment! Be sure to read the instructions on your laundry detergent, too. If you use too much, the rinse cycle may not get all the residue out of your clothing.
- Wash in cold water, as hot water wears out fabrics more quickly. Even if a garment says wash in hot water, washing in cold won’t hurt it and will still get it just as clean.
- Protect the outside of the garment by simply turning it inside out before you toss it in the washing machine – especially clothes with embellishments, beading or embroidery.
- Don’t use bleach, as it can wear out the fibers of your clothing. You may want to try vinegar, as it’s a natural brightener.
- Use the lowest heat setting on your dryer and remove promptly to avoid shrinkage or color fading in new clothes.
Although Tierno does admit that the risk of a person actually getting a significant infection or disease from new clothes is “very low,” it is possible – especially if you happen to have an uncovered cut or scrape on your skin. We’re guessing that’s probably enough to convince you to never skip a wash again.